Twenty years ago I lived in Freiburg, Germany and I often crossed the border to Colmar for the smoked pork. Mexican pork — corn-fed and free-range — knocks my socks off. To put it rudely, I thought the pork at Lexington #1, supposedly the finest bbq in NC, was only slightly better than the carnitas at a good branch of Chipotle. Yes, that is the Chipotle which is owned by McDonald’s and found in the Virginia suburbs. Lexington pork was often too dry, a bit bland, and too frequently doused in sauce, albeit delicious sauce.
Only three or four of Lexington’s twenty or so "barbecue" restaurants still use the classic fired pit. The sadder truth is that it doesn’t matter anymore. The classic pit places will keep their pork either heated or frozen for at least a day and sometimes up to a week. Lexington #1 proudly told me that they don’t let their pork sit any longer than a day…or, after slight hesitation, "sometimes overnight…sometimes we mix it with the pork from yesterday." The pork is also a bit cold, since reheating it thoroughly would dry it out.
Compare this to the best places in Lockhart, Texas, where they pull the meat out of the pit before your eyes and cut it with a butcher’s knife. If they run out of their best dishes by 1 p.m., so be it, that is the price of quality. Did I mention that first-rate barbecue is not always economical?
I can make tastier pork at home. Take some pork ribs and rub in cumin, salt, pepper, and Mexican (not Italian) oregano. Cook them in the oven with a cup of milk, a few cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of thyme, and perhaps a little water. The ambitious will add a bit of fresh lard. It depends on your cut, pot, and oven, but 1 1/4 hours at 300 degrees often works, figure it out yourself. Take the pork out, and let it sit a while for the juices to settle. Scrape the pork off the bone, and then cook it at high heat, using the residue from the ribs as the cooking medium. Add more fresh lard if you want. Cook it for a minute or two, until it starts to brown and get crusty. Remove it immediately at that point; don’t let it get crusty. Yummy, yummy, yummy.
Oh yes, the dipping sauce is to take one white onion, two tomatoes, two cloves garlic, and a few ancho chilies, fry them all a bit in a neutral oil and then blend them in a food processor. If you have the time hydrate the fried chiles for thirty minutes in water before blending. Fresh handmade corn tortillas can be added to this mix, they are increasingly easy to find in Latin markets.
Who needs Lexington?